When going into a movie with a premise as interesting as Dream Scenario there is always a mix of anticipation and anxiety. Anticipation in seeing what story the screenwriter chooses to tell through this unique premise while the anxiety centers around whether the film is able to see the full potential of said premise through to fruition. In terms of this very aesthetically indie third feature from writer/director Kristoffer Borgli the hook is that an average, everyday family man in the form of Nicolas Cage suddenly begins to show up in the dreams of both strangers and acquaintances. With no explanation as to why this is happening Cage's Paul Matthews comes to something of a fork in the road around how to deal with and/or take advantage of his newfound fame that naturally descends into notoriety. Another layer to Borgli's script in particular is that, given the premise, literally any moment in the film could either be a dream or reality leaving the audience guessing as to if what we're seeing is truly happening to our protagonist or not. 

Borgli unfortunately doesn't take as much advantage of this second layer as is available to him, but what is maybe more interesting is where the filmmaker ultimately decides to take the premise for the sake of the story he is telling. Much of the film frames Paul as a man or person searching for other people to impress and who are impressed by him, yet he constantly finds himself surrounded by those who have no interest in appeasing this desire. Whether it be his students, his children (Lily Bird and Jessica Clement), former colleagues (Dylan Baker) and girlfriends (Marnie McPhail) or even his current wife (Julianne Nicholson) in certain, critical moments – they all seem rather unbothered and unimpressed by Paul. Because of this, Paul is always searching for the insult whenever speaking with someone about himself and even when this phenomenon of him showing up in other people's dreams begins his instinct is not to wonder why this happening in the first place, but rather why his presence is only as a bystander. Still, as someone described as a "remarkable nobody" he enjoys the sudden shift in attention and isn't great at hiding it or remaining humble about it even if he remains average within this exceptional occurrence. Even when repercussions of this newfound fame begin to impact his real, personal life Paul has no sense of how to actually deal with things he otherwise imagines he would tackle head on; he’s helpless. 

As Paul's fame grows so do his ambitions and as these ambitions become more self-serving Paul's presence in people's dreams becomes more sinister. This turn in public perception unavoidably bleeds over into Paul's reality forcing him to essentially ex communicate himself from his societal circle. At this point, the film might seemingly lend itself to many readings (and there are no doubt even more to pick through by the end of the film), but at this juncture it seemed the most prevalent idea was that fame and a pre-conceived notion of who you are as a person by the public at large only inevitably leads to a certain state of isolation. This opens both an interesting avenue and can of worms I didn’t initially see the film exploring. Michael Cera, Kate Berlant, and Dylan Gelula show up as founders/employees of an upstart branding company who aspire to take advantage of Paul’s celebrity by connecting him with brands like Sprite whereas Paul means to use this unexpected turn in his life as a way to achieve his goal of being a published author in his field of evolutionary biology. This simple idea not of using this “dream scenario” to his own advantage for personal goals – one kind of expects this – but rather that it grants Paul access to the biggest audience anyone could ask for is the unforeseen aspect as an audience seems to be what everyone craves, but no one wants to be these days. 

Nicolas Cage is the man of many people's dreams in Dream Scenario.
Photo by Courtesy of A24 - © A24
Paul only wanted someone – anyone – to notice him or, if he were really lucky, to consider him interesting. The turn this takes once he becomes an insidious presence in people’s lives and the lack of sympathy he receives from the outside world despite not having actually done anything wrong in reality is genuinely upsetting. That Borgli decides to go this route and elicit these feelings from his own audience could easily be thought of as little more than a parody of social media and influencer culture, but while that’s certainly a strand – and more so, the presentation of ourselves and how we shift who we are depending on the audience – the interpretation I landed on as the final sequence of the film played out was how this was the story of a man who never really had the confidence to be who he wanted or who he imagined or saw himself as in his own mind. While this idea is emphasized early in the film through how most of Paul’s interactions play it is the final scene featuring Cage and Nicholson and the way it alternates between what is clearly an expectation versus reality scenario in Paul’s mind that hammers home how he has failed time and time again to turn these idyllic “dream scenarios” into tangible lived experiences. 

What Borgli means by this, if it is what he intended at all, is only something that could disperse into another hundred interpretations, but in terms of utilizing this unique, engaging premise to good effect this conclusion is kind of notable in that it doesn’t feel more major. That said, the execution and how it uses Paul’s experiences to come to this place of better understanding himself – however depressing – doesn’t really disappoint. In terms of execution, the score from Owen Pallett and the costume work by Kaysie Bergens and Natalie Bronfman shouldn’t go unmentioned as both lend themselves to this idea of a “remarkable nobody” meaning they were confronted with creating something to be hung on an uninteresting focal point and manage to succeed by making them fitting but still evident. The idea of expectation and reality is baked into Borgli’s film though and while it doesn’t work in our protagonist’s favor the fact the expectations were that this film could seemingly go in any number of directions and that the reality it decides to make finite is an achingly painful, but unavoidably true portrait of failed dreams is a sweet, aggravating, profound, and disheartening surprise.

No comments:

Post a Comment